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Book Review: Moriah by Daniel Mills

“An exciting story with complex characters, beautiful prose and a compelling plot … Mills has delivered a piece of taut and suspenseful historical fiction that will please fans of literary and genre fiction alike.”

 

Daniel Mills has built something of a reputation as an author of historical fiction. Indeed, he has openly expressed a love for history from a young age, and is especially known for writing fiction with a New England setting. Just look at some of his previous releases: Revenants (Chomu Press, 2011), his collection The Lord Came at Twilight (Dark Renaissance Books, 2014) and the novella The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile (Dim Shores, 2016). He has also had great success in having his short fiction published in some well-respected magazines (including Black Static, Strange Aeons and Supernatural Tales) and anthologies (Autumn Cthulu, The Madness of Doctor Caligari and Aickman’s Heirs, among others). His latest release, Moriah, takes place in a similar setting to his other historical fiction.

The story opens with the narrator, Silas Flood, a former soldier and chaplain in the American Civil War and now a contributing writer for a New York newspaper, The Sunday Echo. He is traveling by train to the town of Moriah, Vermont to investigate rumours of the Lynch brothers, Thaddeus and Ambrose, who claim to possess paranormal abilities. Mills has used the real life case of the Eddy brothers of Chittenden, Vermont as a basis for his story. The history of the Eddy’s is intriguing, but in Moriah, Mills has created a more interesting tale with much more depth. Flood may be skeptical of the paranormal, but he is haunted by his own ghosts throughout the book. He is troubled by memories of bloodshed and death during the war, the loss of so many young men and his difficulty reconciling this with a benevolent god. But he also struggles with the memory of his late wife, Katherine, who pleaded with him to stay with her rather than fight, and was torn between the duties of a husband and father (Katherine was expecting their first child when he left) and the duty he felt to defend the ideals of the Union. These elements help us to better understand Silas as a person, making him that much more relatable.

The great characterisation employed by Mills doesn’t stop at the protagonist. From the moment Flood arrives at the Yellow House, he encounters a cast of characters, each with their own histories, Mills giving us just enough of their backstories to breathe life into his characters without drowning us in exposition. Indeed, the history of the Lynch family, with their claims of generations-old abilities, serves as the main mystery of the story as Flood tries to unravel it to get to the truth of their psychic abilities. Adding to the intrigue is the further complication of the presence of Sally, the nineteen-year-old sister of Thaddeus and Ambrose. Flood is immediately drawn to the young woman, the only member of the family who welcomes his questions. Ambrose is described as an ‘innocent’, having suffered a head injury at the hand of an abusive father early in life, and Thaddeus is the domineering presence of the household, trying to hold onto the family land amidst pressure from a cousin, John Turner, to whom Sally is betrothed. There is a great deal of family politics within the Yellow House, many a mystery regarding the circumstances of their father’s death and the fate of the oldest sibling, Rebecca, whose diary entries are included between each chapter to help drive the action towards an exhilarating and dramatic finale.

Flood’s investigation into the paranormal phenomena may serve as the catalyst for the story, but it is the interactions and relationships within the Yellow House that makes Moriah such a riveting read. The blossoming relationship between Flood and Sally, the pressure mounting on Thaddeus to save his home by offering his sister to his cousin in return for aid, the deep dark shadows cast by the events of the past that threaten to tear the fragile family apart. Mills combines all of these elements to deliver an exciting story with complex characters, beautiful prose and a compelling plot. Not a word is wasted as he sets the tone and unravels the mystery at a steady pace, building to a great ending. Mills has delivered a piece of taut and suspenseful historical fiction that will please fans of literary and genre fiction alike.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Paperback: (320pp)
Release Date: 16 May 2017

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